Friday, January 26, 2007

Sex and Globalization

The easiest way to get in trouble in the USA is to indulge in ethnic generalizations. But people from all over the world flock to New York City, and it’s difficult keeping your eyes shut. My area of Staten Island is dominated by Albanian Muslims and Sri Lankan Tamils. There are also growing numbers of middle class African Americans.

As Yugoslavia broke apart with the death of Tito, the Albanians built a huge mosque. The fair-haired Albanian girls favor skintight jeans and cropped tops; thongs have been seen; their ponytails bob as they rule for the time being the mosque yard. This area has been Albanian since the 1920s. Albanian women profess total ignorance of Islam.

Large numbers of Arab and Pakistani Muslims, however, have moved into the area so that their children can be educated at the mosque school. And thus there are growing numbers of “moving black objects.” These women are veiled and cloaked top-to-toe in black, even wearing black gloves. You see them only when they take their kids to school.

I adore one Sri Lankan mother whose two boys are Ben’s age. I like the African American girls. But I witnessed scenes last summer which I wouldn’t believe if I didn’t see them with my own eyes. African American boys regularly capture the girls, aged six to sixteen, pen them in, and practice simulated rape. The first time I saw this I was horrified and thought at first I’d call the cops. But then I noticed that the parents and adults all seemed to regard this as innocent play. It’s a kind clothed outdoor kiddie porn. I try not to watch.

I could write a book longer than War and Peace on the sociology of New York Jewish women. Although there has been some combat, it’s been mostly love. But my friend Denis and I got divorced about the same time, and I laughed when he said: “Every day is Pearl Harbor Day when you marry a J.A.P.”

At the Sri Lankan deli one hot day last summer I stood in line with an Arab man and Playboy’s playmate of the month. He refused to look at her; indeed he would twist about in line to make sure he wouldn’t “see” her. Islam outlaws “the male gaze.”

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

The Eighteenth Brumaire of Ruth Scurr

Ruth Scurr has written a thoughtful biography: Fatal Purity: Robespierre and the French Revolution. Obvious highpoints of her narrative--such as the storming of the Bastille, the assassination of Marat, the strange fates of Mirabeau, Lafayette and Condorcet, and the executions by guillotine of Louis XVI, Marie Antoinette, Madame Roland, Georges Danton and finally her protagonist--pass, as in a meditation. It’s a serious book.

The French Revolution was serious but, nevertheless, crazy. After Trudeau converted Canada to the metric system, English Canadians complained about metric madness for decades. I myself love the French Revolutionary Calendar (FRC). Hey kids, what time is it? It’s 3 Pluviose. Karl Marx famously used the FRC in “The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Napoleon” to make fun of Louis Napoleon: “history repeats itself,” Marx says, “first as tragedy, then comedy.”

More importantly, the French Revolution discredited European feudalism and its divine right of kings, then paved the way for government by law and the ballot and the rights of the individual. It was all in all a massive swirling progressive event. But a few passages in Scurr’s book make you shiver over the process. Robespierre, for instance:

invented a new official category of criminal: enemies of the people, “those who, in any manner and no matter with what mask they have concealed themselves, have sought to thwart the progress of the Revolution and prevent the strengthening of the Republic….”

Robespierre recommended that the Tribunal should now accept “moral proofs” against accused persons, who were no longer to be allowed advocates….

Enemies of the people included anyone seeking to re-establish the monarchy, discredit the [constitutional] Convention, betray the Republic, communicate with foreign enemies, interfere with food provision, shelter conspirators, speak ill of patriotism, suborn officials, mislead the people, spread false news, insult morality, deprave the public conscience, steal public property, abuse public office, or plot against the liberty, unity and security of the state. The punishment for all these crimes was death. (page 328)

Robespierre as head of the Committee of Public Safety was powerful, absolutely powerful, but, it was said, incorruptible.

French support for the American Revolution bankrupted France. We, too, live in troubled times. Louis XVI was the wrong king at the wrong time, just as George Bush is the wrong president for this time. His war in Iraq is bankrupting America. Is he an enemy of the people, an enemy of God or just an enemy of reason? If we’re lucky, he will merely pass from office more hated than any president since Richard Nixon.

The key to Bush’s residual popularity remains his religion. Robespierre like Washington, Franklin and Jefferson before him was a Deist. As the Reign of Terror got underway, Robespierre suppressed the religion of Reason and replaced it with the worship of the Supreme-Being. He was no atheist. Nor was he, like Bush, a Methodist. But Bush, like Robespierre, seeks to impose his religion on everyone. Bush is an enemy of man. Man recovered from Robespierre, and will recover from Bush. I don’t know about America. He has two years left to ruin it forever.